Info overload is a universal business issue

DeWayne Bartels

Anthony D’Angelo, author of “The College Blue Book,” warns “In your thirst for knowledge, be sure not to drown in all the information.”

That is becoming an ever-harder admonishment for Peorians to adhere to because the supply of information available to every living being is growing exponentially.

A study by the University of California in 2003 said, “Published studies on media use say that the average American adult uses the telephone 16.17 hours a month, listens to radio 90 hours a month, and watches TV 131 hours a month. About 53 percent of the U.S. population uses the Internet, averaging 25 hours and 25 minutes a month at home, and 74 hours and 26 minutes a month at work.”

This is leading to what is called “Information Fatigue Syndrome.”

One local woman sees who tackles this phenomenon head-on daily says the issue will continue to grow.

So, how much information is out there?

New information is accumulating so fast that there are clocks on the Internet that track it and move so fast the numbers are a blur.

A 2003 study by the University of California tackled the question of how much information is out there. The number is staggering.

The study found in print, film, magnetic, and optical storage mediums there were about five exabytes of new information produced in 2002. To put that into perspective, there are 17 million books in the Library of Congress. Five exabytes of information is equal to 37,000 new libraries the size of the Library of Congress. 

The study concluded that new stored information grew about 30 percent a year between 1999 and 2002.

And, the numbers just keep growing.

In March, the EMC Corporation released a study called “The Diverse and Exploding Digital Universe: An Updated Forecast of Worldwide Information Growth Through 2011.”

Its study concluded, At 281 exabytes the digital universe in 2007 was 10 percent bigger than originally estimated. With a compound annual growth rate of almost 60 percent, the digital universe is growing faster and is projected to be nearly 1.8 zettabytes – or 1,800 exabytes -  in 2011, a 10-fold increase.”

Jo Dorsch, health sciences librarian at the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Peoria, knows about the explosion of information as well as anyone does locally. She deals with it daily.

Dorsch has been in the library business since 1979, and headed the medical college’s library since 2000.

She oversees a print collection of more than 55,000 volumes. That is a lot of text. But, Dorsch said, the print collection is puny compared to the information they store or have access to electronically.

“That number pales when you talk about what we have online. We have more than 30,000 online journals, and that’s just journals,” Dorsch said.

“When I started here we had 450 journals in print. We thought that was great. Now print journals are going the way of the dinosaur.”

She said when the college library started shifting from print to electronic versions there as great resistance.

“Now, I get grief if a journal is not available online,” she said. “Our print collection would be considered small to medium. Our online collection, however, is one of the largest in the country.”

Dorsch said it is nearly impossible to estimate the amount of information a medical student can assess in the college library.

“Just one of the databases we subscribe to, called Medline, in just family practice titles offers access to 341 journals or 7,280 articles a month,” Dorsch said.

“If a physician tried to keep up with all that it would take 627.5 hours a month just to read those articles.”

Medline, she said, in total indexes 5,000 journals.

“The volume of information available is tremendous,” Dorsch said, “and that’s just one database. We have about 250 databases. It’s mind-boggling.”

To cope Dorsch said she and her staff work continually to teach the medical students how to sift through and synthesize all that information.

“We work hard to give them the tools they need,” she said.

“In their third year we have a 12-week course to teach them how to sift through the information available.”

Online availability of information, Dorsch said, is fundamentally changing the dynamics of the library industry.

“We are no longer  warehouse of books. Libraries are now thought of as information commons,” she said.

It is overwhelming for librarians and students alike. But, the trend is not going to change anytime soon.

“We have to plan to transform our space which includes a new computer library lab and classrooms,” Dorsch said. “The preference now is to have everything online. The medical information available has exploded, and so has the number of formats to receive it.”

Dorsch said students can download pod casts, get email alerts and other forms of communication.

“It is incredible how quickly things are changing,” Dorsch said.

“My job is to continually learn about new tools to help the students get to the information they need. That’s my challenge.”